Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hidden Bonuses Enrich Government Contractors at Taxpayer Cost



Hidden Bonuses Enrich Government Contractors at Taxpayer Cost


By David Dietz


Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senator Kit Bond shifted in his chair at a 2005 congressional hearing, poised with a question on national security. He turned to Treasury Secretary John Snow, who was seated at a witness table.


Was Snow sure, asked Bond, a Missouri Republican, that a Treasury Department computer on order for $8.9 million would help detect terrorist money laundering?


“Yes, absolutely,” Snow said.


A year later, in July 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department abandoned the project. The computer didn’t work. The department had spent $14.7 million -- a 65 percent increase above the original budget -- for nothing.


There was a final ignominy: Under the terms of the contract, Electronic Data Systems Corp., the vendor, collected a bonus of $638,126.


As the federal government’s $700 billion bailout of banks sputters, there’s an object lesson for the new administration of President Barack Obama: Federal departments, including Treasury itself, routinely squander tens of billions of dollars a year in taxpayer money as they farm out public business to private corporations.


Obama, like presidents before him, said during his bid for the White House that he wanted to curtail waste in government. With contracting, he faces a mismanaged system that accounts for almost 40 cents of every federal dollar spent outside of mandatory obligations such as Social Security and Medicare.


Not Earmarks


When compared with all federal contracting, just a fraction of U.S. spending waste comes from so-called earmarks, which elected officials often criticize as the unnecessary pet projects of politicians.

The “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska, for example, had a price tag of $398 million. By contrast, the government spent $368.4 billion on all contracts in 2008, and Republican Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn estimates that about $100 billion of that was wasted.


U.S. spending on 3.7 million contracts in 2008 represented an increase of 76 percent over 2000 levels.

“We have a broken, broken system that rewards incompetence,” says Coburn, 60, who has been examining purchasing breakdowns since his election to Congress in 2005. “We need to totally change contracting.”

Bureaucrats, not elected officials, run the U.S. purchasing system, well out of public sight. And their bosses keep the spending secret by not releasing complete contract files to the public.


No Access


Just as taxpayers can’t find out how the Treasury and the Federal Reserve used the first half of the bank bailout, Americans are often denied access to public records that provide details on how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent in contracts.


Bloomberg News filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department and the Fed asking for documents on the bailout and routine contracts.


As of Jan. 12, seven months after receiving the first request, the three agencies had provided incomplete documents with blacked-out words or nothing at all.


In many cases, bureaucrats are motivated to give millions of dollars in bonuses to contractors no matter how poorly a company performs because generosity with taxpayer money may help them land better-paying jobs after they leave the government.


Contractors on dozens of jobs at federal departments collected more than $8 billion in what federal auditors said were unwarranted bonuses from 1999 to 2005.


‘A Total Mess’


In 2007, military radio maker Harris Corp. developed a hand- held computer for the 2010 census that failed to work in tests in a California heat wave. Still, the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau awarded Harris $14.2 million in bonuses in a contract that more than doubled in price to $1.3 billion from $600 million, according to federal investigators.


“Contracting is a total mess,” says John Lehman, who fought procurement waste as secretary of the Navy from 1981 to 1987 partly by banning costly contract changes once work was under way, according to Navy records.


“I don’t think in the history of the country it’s been as bad as it is today,” says Lehman, 66, now chairman of J.F. Lehman & Co., a New York-based private equity firm. “You have a system where no one is in charge and no one is held accountable.”


As Obama was gearing up for an economic stimulus starting with about $825 billion in taxpayer money, he said at a news conference on Jan. 6 that the government had to find savings in the federal budget. Because of his rescue package, Obama warned that the budget deficit might exceed $1 trillion for years to come.


More Contracts


He didn’t provide specifics about cuts, including how he might attack contracting waste.

Obama’s spending plan will create new federal contracts as the government pours money into education, public works and expanded technology.


Unless the new president bores in on those projects and existing contracts to examine how funds are being used, he’ll overlook billions of dollars in potential savings, says Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based nonprofit.


“There are always efforts to try to make things more efficient, and I’m sure the Obama administration will do the same,” Schatz says. “But the agencies don’t necessarily pay much attention to what’s going on at the White House, and you may get business as usual.”


Obama’s pledges to cut waste mimic promises of previous presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Reagan’s Grace Commission -- named for its chairman, J. Peter Grace, chief executive officer of chemical maker W.R. Grace & Co. -- scoured the government in a quest to streamline.


Past Failures


Clinton championed a campaign called Reinventing Government by cutting thousands of jobs and turning work over to private companies. None of those efforts stemmed the bulge of federal contracting and waste.


Most Cabinet secretaries don’t probe for waste in contracts on their own and don’t push procurement subordinates to police work that’s farmed out.


That lack of accountability holds true even when projects make up significant chunks of their budgets, says Todd Zinser, inspector general at the Commerce Department.


“What happens is, a lot of senior leaders don’t view that as part of their job,” he says. “But if you’re going to head up an agency whose mission is relying on a large acquisition, then it’s a necessity that that leader be hands-on.”


Beacons for Good Conduct


The public may be perplexed when federal agencies such as Treasury and Commerce dribble away billions of dollars a year on wasteful contracts, says Daniel Guttman, a lawyer who teaches public administration at George Washington University in Washington.


He’s studied federal contracting since the 1970s. After all, he says, those departments are supposed to act as beacons for good business conduct and are typically run by former Wall Street or corporate executives.


“The truth is, we have a tradition of great businessmen who’ve been the worst contract managers,” he says.


Much of the squandering occurs through so-called cost-plus contracts, which have been in use for almost 100 years. The system, which originally was intended to reward defense contractors for fast and efficient work during World War I, offers bonuses for exceptional performance.


Federal departments have long since abandoned the intended purpose of cost-plus, and bureaucrats who run contracts routinely award bonuses for almost everything, even when a program fails completely, Lehman says.


‘Paying Through the Nose’


“There’s too much gold plating and little accountability with most programs being done on a cost-plus basis,” he says. “We’re paying through the nose.”


From 2002 to 2005, Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. collected $123 million in bonuses on a Commerce Department-led project for a weather satellite system that became the subject of four congressional hearings because of billions of dollars in waste.


The payments were authorized by contract manager John Cunningham, a retired Air Force colonel with a walrus mustache who worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from a 10th-floor federal office in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was his first major federal procurement assignment.

Cunningham, 60, didn’t respond to telephone, e-mail and in- person requests for comment.


Closeness with contractors develops through repeated hiring of the same companies, often without competitive bidding and even after vendors admit in criminal cases that they cheated the very agencies that gave them work.


Criminal Referrals


Treasury Department agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, currently have more than $13 million in auditing and telecommunications service contracts with a firm that the Treasury Department had referred to federal prosecutors.


KPMG LLP of New York, the fourth-largest accounting firm by revenue, paid $456 million in 2005 to settle a Justice Department complaint that it had sold phony tax shelters to wealthy clients, wrongly diverting $2.5 billion that should have gone to Treasury.


That wasn’t the only time KPMG has been accused of cheating the government. In 2006, a year after the tax shelter case, KPMG and three other consulting companies paid $25.7 million to settle federal civil lawsuits accusing them of overbilling the Treasury Department and various agencies for travel. KPMG didn’t admit or deny wrongdoing.


Still, the department continued to award contracts to KPMG. Treasury spokeswoman Courtney Forsell says agency contracting meets federal rules. KPMG spokesman Daniel Ginsburg declined to comment.


‘Revolutionizing Census’


Mostly, the contracting system goes wrong through spending waste and not lawbreaking. When the Census Bureau hired Harris Corp. in 2006 to provide a hand-held computer for the 2010 nationwide survey of Americans, the agency heralded the $600 million contract as a milestone in census modernization.

Census director Louis Kincannon said the computer would cut down on paper by allowing canvassers to electronically survey households that didn’t return census forms.


“We are revolutionizing the census,” he said in a press release on March 30, 2006.


In June, three months after the contract was signed, Coburn peered down at Kincannon at a congressional hearing and asked what would happen if the computers didn’t work.


“They will work,” Kincannon said. “You might as well ask me what happens if the Postal Service refuses to deliver the census form.”


They didn’t work.


‘People Quit’


In 2007, the bureau tested some of the devices. The small computers shut down during a heat wave in California’s Central Valley. At other times, the machines took five minutes, instead of just seconds, to send information to a central computer, says Barbara Ferry, manager of the census office in Stockton, California.


Kelli Hermesch’s frustrations with the device came on a lonely dirt road in North Carolina. Hermesch, a census quality control leader, says that during the 2007 trials she and a co- worker kept tapping their location into the computer, trying to get it to validate the address.


The computer said they were standing someplace else, she says. Hermesch says such snafus wore crews down.


“I had people quit on me,” she says. “It was definitely frustrating.”


Today, the revolution is largely a bust. Last April, the Census Bureau said it would go back to pen and paper for canvassing and use the computers only to verify addresses of households.


44-Fold Increase


The project has cost $1.3 billion -- more than double the original estimate. In a big gaffe, both the government and Harris had miscalculated the cost of a help desk for canvassers. Harris and the agency had originally budgeted $5 million.


The price has since jumped to $220 million, a 44-fold increase, according to government records.

Perhaps worst of all, Coburn says, was that Harris collected $14.2 million in bonuses.


“It’s ridiculous,” he says. “They didn’t even perform competently. You could do what they tried to do on a cell phone.”


At a congressional hearing last April, Representative Alan Mollohan, a West Virginia Democrat, questioned Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez about the reason for the payout.


Gutierrez said officials handling the census contract appeared to have let Harris get away with unacceptable work.


“Well, the bonuses were given on the basis of goals that were set,” Gutierrez said. “I think the right goals weren’t there, and they got paid a bonus for something that proved to be less than what they should have delivered.”


‘We Are Pleased’


Cheryl Janey, president of civil programs for Harris, told a congressional hearing in 2007 that the company was still working with the Census Bureau on using other features of the hand-held computer. She said the device was reliable.


The bureau’s repeated requests for changes to the computer - - 419 in all -- slowed the project, Janey testified. In a written statement, Harris said it was committed to finishing the job.


“We are pleased with the progress we are making and remain significantly involved in helping modernize the customer’s data and technology,” the company wrote.


The Treasury Department had a similar flop in 2004 and 2005.


EDS Contract


After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the agency’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network hired Plano, Texas-based EDS, the world’s second-biggest computer services provider, to install a computer that would let outside law enforcement agencies uncover money laundering by terrorists. The computer, replacing outdated systems at Treasury and the IRS, would house bank and brokerage reports of large cash transactions.


EDS, which was bought by Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard Co. in August, won the job in competitive bidding in June 2004. Treasury gave the company a tough deadline. It wanted the system by October 2005 -- about 15 months later -- and guaranteed the company a bonus to spur it to deliver.

Within weeks, the project had veered off track, according to audits in 2006 by a team of investigators from the Treasury’s inspector general’s office and the Government Accountability Office.  Treasury and EDS didn’t assign enough staff and put inexperienced people on the job, causing delays lasting months, according to the reports.


When former Treasury Secretary Snow appeared before Congress in April 2005, he was upbeat about the system’s promise. He said nothing at the time about whether he knew of growing breakdowns.


‘Risk Increased’


By late 2005, the project was in disarray. The system couldn’t cope with millions more cash transaction reports than were expected. In tests, simple computer inquiries took longer to complete than under the old system, according to the inspector general’s report.


In 2006, an internal Treasury review team said the system couldn’t be trusted because no one conducted sufficient examinations of the information it stored.


“Pressure on the network and contractor staff intensified, risk increased, milestones slipped, costs increased and quality degraded,” the team wrote in its report.


Robert Werner, who had been on the job as network director for two weeks, halted the contract in March 2006. Treasury went back to the old system.


“In good conscience, I could devote no further resources to the project when I can find no guarantee that any amount of added spending would ever produce the desired result,” Werner said in a Treasury announcement.


‘Client’s Requirements’


In the end, $14.7 million was gone -- plus the $638,126 bonus EDS had negotiated when it signed the contract. EDS said it did what it was asked.


“EDS was disappointed when the agency decided to terminate the contract, but we respected and supported our client’s decision to reassess the project,” company spokesman Bob Brand says. “At all times during our involvement with the contract, EDS was responsive to the client’s requirements.”


Snow, 69, declined to comment. He’s now chairman of Cerberus Capital Management LP, a New York-based private equity firm.


Northrop Grumman says it also has been doing all it can to finish what it started. When NOAA awarded the company a contract, with bonus provisions, to build the $6.5 billion weather satellite system in 2002, the Commerce Department touted the job as a breakthrough in contract cooperation among federal agencies.


‘Count on Us’


For the first time, the Defense Department, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration and NOAA agreed to avoid duplication and jointly build satellites that would conduct both weather surveillance and military reconnaissance.


Best of all was the cost savings: NOAA said in a project description in 2002 that the joint project would save the government $1.6 billion.


“Count on us,” contract manager Cunningham told the American Meteorological Society in a speech in Seattle in 2004.


The project called for launching six satellites to replace ones that were wearing out. The first launch was scheduled for 2008. It hasn’t happened, and the program has gone from an economic boon to a taxpayer catastrophe.


The budget has doubled to $13.1 billion and a test satellite isn’t scheduled to be launched until next year. NOAA laid the blame on planning that underestimated the complexity of the project and on breakdowns of a satellite sensor to measure global warming.


Tracing Failures


An independent team of scientists that reviewed the contract traced project failures in 2005 to NOAA, saying the agency ceded too much control to Northrop.


“The program office needs to decide if it should provide a more proactive oversight for the program rather than delegate so much to the prime,” the team said. “This would help ensure mission success.”

The breakdowns didn’t keep Cunningham, who quit NOAA in 2005, from paying Northrop as if the company were a master manager. From 2002 to 2005, he gave Northrop bonuses of $123 million. NOAA officials, including agency head Conrad Lautenbacher, never explained Cunningham’s actions in congressional hearings.


‘My Question’


After leaving government, Cunningham went to work for Scitor Corp., a Herndon, Virginia-based defense contractor, according to a 2005 NOAA newsletter.


“My question is why you even keep a job, much less get a bonus,” says Representative Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat who heads the House Science Committee, which investigated the satellite breakdowns. “It’s embarrassing, and it really makes you angry.”


Cunningham authorized the payments even though he rated Northrop’s performance in one evaluation period in 2005 as unsatisfactory.


Cunningham shouldn’t have had the authority to approve the bonuses, a 2006 audit by the Commerce Department inspector general said. His goal as project manager to make the work succeed blurred his oversight of Northrop, the audit said.


Agency head Lautenbacher, who left his post in October, said in congressional testimony in 2006 that he intervened when he learned of the failures. He said the project’s major fault was that it was too ambitious and its planners expected to achieve too much.


‘Committed 100 Percent’


Northrop says it’s striving to overcome technical breakdowns, including satellite instrument failures.

“Northrop Grumman takes responsibility for its role as the prime contractor very seriously and is committed 100 percent to successfully delivering this program to the customer,” the company said in a written statement.


With the federal budget soaring, the Obama administration will have to decide what it will do about giveaways to contractors. Promises from previous administrations to clean up led nowhere.


“This situation is beyond troubling,” says Senator Thomas Carper, a Democrat from Delaware. “More than ever, taxpayers need to know that their hard-earned money is being used wisely. The financial strain on everyone is daunting. I just shake my head when taxpayer money is wasted like this.”


Obama set up a government performance office two weeks before he was inaugurated. He picked Nancy Killefer, a director of management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., to run it.


Whether Washington curtails contract waste may depend on how much she delves into the ways in which agencies dole out work -- and how sharp her pencil is.


To contact the reporter on this story: David Dietz in San Francisco at


Last Updated: January 29, 2009 07:06 EST



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US Urged to Pay Fair Share of Global Fund


t r u t h o u t | 01.30


US Urged to Pay Fair Share of Global Fund

Thursday 29 January 2009


by: Mirela Xanthaki, Inter Press Service


    United Nations - The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria is facing a critical funding gap of five billion dollars - an amount that could save nearly two million lives in the coming year, leading public health advocates said at a teleconference Thursday.


    "It would be tempting to scale back now due to the economic crisis, but that would be exactly the wrong strategy," said Peter Chernin, chairperson of the group Malaria No More.


    Established in 2001, the Global Fund is the main source of financing for programmes to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, with funding of 11.4 billion dollars for more than 550 programmes in 136 countries. It provides a quarter of all international financing for AIDS globally, two-thirds for tuberculosis, and three-quarters for malaria.


    The explicit and repeated commitments of the international community include the promise that malaria would be comprehensively controlled with full coverage of bed nets by the end of 2010 and a reduction of malaria death to near zero by 2012. A target of universal access to anti-retroviral HIV medicines was also set for the year 2010.


    Putting the needed funds in perspective, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general, said, "Five billion dollars is less than one-half of 1 percent of what [the richest] G8 countries have approved to bail out failing banks in the last three months."


    Five billion dollars is also, according to the National Retail Federation, less than one-third of what people in the U.S. spent on Valentine's Day candy and gifts in 2007.


    "The G8 nations created the Global Fund - now they have to make sure effective interventions do not go unfunded," said Sachs.


    With many success stories during its short history, the fund has provided treatment for two million people currently on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for HIV, TB treatment for 4.6 million people, and 70 million insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) to protect families from malaria. It is estimated that 2.5 million lives have been saved since the fund was created.


    "The Global Fund is arguably the most innovative, far reaching, results-driven health financing mechanism in existence," said Joanne Carter, executive director of RESULTS Educational Fund.


    The successes of the Global Fund have created greater demand. However, while the 2009-2010 budget was projected to be 8 billion dollars, only 3 billion dollars is currently available, including existing pledges by most donor governments and the 2009 pledge from the United States.


    If the gap is to be filled, all donor countries - and particularly the U.S. - will need to come forward to increase their pledges, the speakers said.


    The three diseases covered by the fund are costing Africa some 12 billion dollars in lost productivity every year. "It's a case of lost opportunities and it would be a huge mistake on the part of the world to write off this continent. There is enormous human capital, people willing to work hard and make major contributions to society," Chernin said.


    Getting these diseases under control would be a major boost to development, not only in the avoided costs of treatment and losses of productivity in a given year but also in eventually making Africa a full trading partner with the rest of the world.


    Chernin noted that these diseases are an overwhelming burden on the health care systems of many countries, which are also grappling with infant diseases, pneumonia, malnutrition and other health scourges.


    Speakers at the conference noted that as most major donors were agreeing to scale up the Global Fund to 6-8 billion dollars per year, the George W. Bush administration requested only 500 million dollars in fiscal year 2009 - a cut of nearly 350 million dollars from the previous year.


    The U.S. ended up paying one billion dollars less than its share - the smallest donation as a share of income of all the rich countries.


    "[Just] 0.16 of 1 percent of our income goes for development assistance, which is the lowest level of all 22 countries and this is in violation of the promise that President Bush subscribed in 2002," Sachs said. "We have a national responsibility not only with respect to Global Fund and with respect to these three diseases but with respect to the poorest countries in the world more generally."


    The pledge for 2009 is very low and there is still no pledge for 2010 from the U.S., but all speakers expressed hope in the new Barack Obama administration. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged in their campaigns to pay the U.S. fair share to the Global Fund of one-third.


    "The world has committed to achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010," said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel SidibĂ©. "Key to reaching these goals is a fully funded Global Fund - an innovative and effective mechanism that is consistently delivering results and saving lives."


    "There is no shortage of funds at a moment when there have been 18 billion dollars of Christmas bonuses for Wall Street supported by bailout legislation" Sachs added.


    The private sector was also urged to step up and help bridge the gap. Thus far, oil giant Chevron is the biggest corporate donor, pledging 30 million dollars.


    "We're not asking for a bailout," stressed Rajat Gupta, chair of the Global Fund. "We are asking donor governments to honour their previous commitments to spend this level of money for the world's health and prosperity. At the current rate, these funds could save nearly 2 million additional lives in the coming years."


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Economic Cost of the Military Industrial Complex

The Economic Cost of the Military Industrial Complex

By James Quinn



"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hope of its children."

These must be the words of some liberal Democratic Senator running for President in 2008. But no, these are the words of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, five decades ago.

The United States, the only superpower remaining on earth, currently spends more on military than the next 45 highest spending countries in the world combined. The U.S. accounts for 48% of the world’s total military spending. Where did the peace dividend from winning the Cold War go?


The United States spends on its military 5.8 times more than China, 10.2 times more than Russia, and 98.6 times more than Iran. The Cold War has been over for 20 years, but we are spending like World War III is on the near term horizon. There is no country on earth that can challenge the U.S. militarily.

So, why are we spending like we are preparing for a major conflict? The impression on the rest of the world is that we have aggressive intentions. The administration is posturing like Iran is a threat to our security. Iran spends $7.2 billion annually on their military. We could make a parking lot out of their cities in any conflict. Does anyone really believe that they would create a nuclear weapon and use it on Israel? Their country would be obliterated.

Defense spending had peaked at just under $500 billion in 1988. The fall of communist Russia did result in a decline to the $350 billion range from 1995 through 2000, and an economic boom ensued. Since 9/11 we have doubled our spending on defense.

This seems like an overly extreme reaction to 19 terrorists attacking our country. Bin Laden and his terrorist network numbered less than 10,000. The initial response of invading Afghanistan, defeating the Taliban, and cornering bin Laden in the mountains was supported by the entire world. The success of this response was sufficient to deter any other country from allowing terrorist organizations to operate freely within their borders.

The natural response of the United States should have been to increase spending on border protection, upgrading the CIA, and increasing our ability to gather intelligence. Instead, we spent billions on weapons, aircraft, tanks, and missiles. The neo-cons, led by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, saw the 9/11 attack as their opportunity to change the world. They’ve gotten their wish.

Of course, we took our eye off of bin Laden and Afghanistan. The Taliban has experienced a resurgence, recently freeing 800 fighters from a prison. Bin Laden continues to issue videotapes exhorting his followers to continue the fight.

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech in January 1961 is a brilliantly perceptive analysis of the future of our country. 

Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad. 

This last sentence describes what George Bush has managed to do in the last 5 years. The arrogance of believing that we could invade a country on the other side of the world and expect to be treated as liberators is beyond comprehension. Our reputation abroad has been grievously damaged. The voluntary sacrifices we’ve made in the U.S. were to receive tax cuts and multiple tax rebates, paid for by our grandchildren. President Bush has sacrificed by not playing golf for the last 5 years.

How noble. Not exactly the Greatest Generation, quite yet.

Did President Eisenhower envision that the U.S. would have troops stationed in 70% of the world’s countries? According to the Defense Department’s latest "Personnel Strengths" report, the United States now has troops stationed in 147 countries and 10 territories. This is the greatest number of countries that the United States has ever had troops in. Why are we policing the world? What is the point of having 57,000 troops in Germany and 33,000 troops in Japan? Germany and Japan each spend $40 billion per year on their military. Can’t they defend themselves at this point? We defeated them 60 years ago. It is time to leave. This is a prelude to decades of occupation in Iraq. Don’t believe the blather about withdrawal. The military has no intention of withdrawing.

It is a shame that after 9/11, George Bush didn’t read President Eisenhower’s farewell speech. I wonder if he has ever read the speech. Instead he chose to follow the “wisdom” of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. President Eisenhower’s words describe the crisis that occurred on September 11, 2001. 

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research -- these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel. 

A spectacular and costly response is what the Iraq invasion has turned out to be. We have now spent more money on this venture than any war in history except for World War II. And there is no end in sight.

I live in Pennsylvania. Taxpayers in Pennsylvania have paid $20 billion for our share of the Iraq war, so far. This amount of money would pay for 1,650,000 scholarships for University students for one year. Does a $20 billion investment in rebuilding Iraqi bridges that we blew up with $1 million cruise missiles make more sense than investing in our best and brightest young people? $20 billion would provide 24,000,000 homes with renewable electricity for one year. That is 20% of all the homes in the United States.

After paying their utility bills this coming winter, I think I know what the majority of Americans would choose. Some further perspective on this out of control spending is provided in the following chart:

President Eisenhower, as a former commanding general of Allied forces in World War II, knew exactly what the implications of having a permanent armaments industry were to the United States. He was also worried about the implications.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. 

These words were spoken 5 decades ago, but are just as true today.

President Eisenhower, as a former commanding general of Allied forces in World War II, knew exactly what the implications of having a permanent armaments industry were to the United States. He was also worried about the implications. These words were spoken 5 decades ago, but are just as true today.

The top five U.S. defense contractors generated almost $129 billion in revenues and $8 billion in profits in 2006, double the revenue and profits in 2000 when George Bush became President. The War on Terror has been a windfall for the defense industry and their shareholders. These companies have intertwined themselves into the fabric of our government and defense department. They contribute tremendous amounts of money to Congressional candidates and have thousands of lobbyists pushing for more defense contracts. Many politicians end up working for defense contractors (i.e. Dick Cheney) after they leave public service. This leads to conflicts of interest negatively impacting the American public.

It appears that the biggest winners of the War on Terror are the CEOs of the defense contractors. I wonder if they realized how rich they would become as they watched the Twin Towers crumble to the ground. They have virtually tripled their annual income, while the average American scratched out a 20% increase over 6 years. They have managed to generate the tremendous profits and personal wealth while only employing 10% more employees. Boeing and Raytheon were actually able to reduce their workforce. How productive. These contractors will do everything in their power to retain and increase these fabulous profits.

President Eisenhower clearly understood the moral implications of a huge armaments industry and the costs to a free society. 

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. 

We have some of the brightest engineers in the country developing weapons to kill human beings more efficiently. There is an opportunity cost that is being paid. These engineers could be concentrating their brilliance on developing alternative energy solutions which could free us from our drug dependence on the Middle East. Which effort would benefit our country more, weapons development or energy independence?

President Eisenhower’s final words are the most chilling. 

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. 

We did not heed his wisdom. Laurence Vance, author of What’s Wrong with the U.S. Global Empire?,contends that our foreign policy 

is not right, it’s unnatural, it’s very expensive, it’s against the principles of the Founding Fathers, it fosters undesirable activity, it increases hatred of Americans, it perverts the purpose of the military, it increases the size and scope of the government, it makes countries dependent on the presence of the U.S. military, and finally, because the United States is not the world’s policeman. 

War and non-stop conflict benefit the military industrial complex. It is in their best interest for them to support candidates that favor an aggressive foreign policy. This could lead to Defense companies using their influence to provoke conflict throughout the world.

In conclusion, I again turn to the wisdom of Ron Paul, the only presidential candidate speaking the truth to the American public. In a speech before Congress several months before the Iraq invasion, his words were reminiscent of President Eisenhower’s. 

The basic moral principle underpinning a non-interventionist foreign policy is that of rejecting the initiation of force against others. It is based on non-violence and friendship unless attacked, self-determination, and self-defense while avoiding confrontation, even when we disagree with the way other countries run their affairs. It simply means that we should mind our own business and not be influenced by special interests that have an ax to grind or benefits to gain by controlling our foreign policy. Manipulating our country into conflicts that are none of our business and unrelated to national security provides no benefits to us, while exposing us to great risks financially and militarily.

If we followed a constitutional policy of non-intervention, we would never have to entertain the aggressive notion of preemptive war based on speculation of what a country might do at some future date. Political pressure by other countries to alter our foreign policy for their benefit would never be a consideration. Commercial interests and our citizens investing overseas could not expect our armies to follow them and protect their profits. 

If as a country we continue to allow our politicians and their military industrial complex corporate sponsors to spend $700+ billion per year on weapons, to the detriment of higher education, alternative energy projects, and national infrastructure needs, we will be paying an extremely high price.

We are in a classic guns or butter scenario. The Bush Administration has decided to choose guns while borrowing from our grandchildren and the Chinese to pay for the butter. This can work for awhile, but as deficits accumulate, the dollar plummets, and inflation rears its ugly head, our great country will decline as other empires who overstepped their bounds declined.

Disclosure: Author holds no positions in the stocks mentioned above